LAGUNA NIGUEL — As the match neared an end Wednesday afternoon, the Corona del Mar High girls’ tennis team turned to a more important matter.
The Sea Kings were taking a team trip to Ruby’s Diner in Laguna Beach. Senior Piper Bledsoe was in charge of taking orders for ice cream shakes.
CdM placed its order to-go, calling ahead before leaving the Laguna Niguel Racquet Club.
“We don’t do dinner because we have too much homework and stuff,” senior Morgan McVey explained. “We’re just doing the shakes. Go for the good stuff.”
As for the tennis, CdM Coach Brian Ricker is also seeing more good stuff, even after his team suffered a 12-6 nonleague loss to Dana Hills.
Doubles continues to be an area of focus. The Sea Kings, ranked No. 5 in the CIF Southern Section Division I coaches’ poll, won three of nine doubles sets Tuesday against No. 2-ranked Dana Hills. That’s better than the sweep they suffered last week at No. 3 Peninsula.
“We’re trying to get our doubles teams together,” said McVey, who won two of three sets with fellow senior Kalika Slevcove. McVey played for CdM her first two years before spending last year at the Advantage Tennis Academy in Irvine, but now she’s back for her senior season.
She was inserted into the doubles lineup a couple of weeks ago and has shown improvement.
“Senior year, I kind of had to be [back],” McVey said. “Our singles [players are] pretty much set, so that’s easy, so it’s just the doubles. There’s so many girls, and to find the right combinations, it takes time. I think it’s getting there.”
The Sea Kings (6-3) actually took a 4-2 lead after the first go-round, surprising the Dolphins (5-1) after sophomore Nini Ugrelidze edged a 7-6 (7-5) set against Dana Hills’ Jessica Perez.
But Dana Hills responded against the team it defeated in the Division I final in 2007 and ’08. The Dolphins won 10 of the final 12 sets. Sophomore Alyssa Smith provided a highlight for the home team after she outlasted CdM senior Lynda Xepoleas, 7-6 (7-5) in the second round. That gave Dana Hills a 7-5 sets advantage.
It was Xepoleas’ first loss of the year. Twice she served for the set, but Smith answered with breaks each time to force a tiebreaker, where Smith earned a 6-2 advantage and hung on to win the high-quality match.
Xepoleas is ranked No. 5 in Southern California in girls’ 18s; Smith is the top-ranked player in the 16s.
“We lost a singles match we shouldn’t have lost, and that’s why we were down 4-2,” Dana Hills Coach Mark Spearman said. “But then we won a singles match we shouldn’t have won. That turned the whole match around.
“Lynda, I’d never seen her play, and I was just impressed by how she’s out there to win, no matter what. She goes after every ball, which I love, and Alyssa just played a little better defense. It could have gone either way. Alyssa’s a fighter, but Lynda is very composed and super-nice on the court. I’m very impressed with her.”
Ricker said the ball-striking was some of the best he’d seen in a high school girls’ tennis match.
Xepoleas did win two of three singles sets. The other CdM set was won by sophomore Alison Ishii and freshman Lauren Thaxter, a duo which Ricker thinks will keep getting better.
“Ishii and Thaxter are making progress,” Ricker said. “They’re not that comfortable at the net yet. They want to play ‘two back’ a little more than I’d like them to. If they want to play two back, I think they need to be more aggressive, not with how hard they hit the ball but with where they hit the ball.”
The Sea Kings are at an aggressive part of their schedule, with two tough Pacific Coast League matches upcoming. Today they play host to Woodbridge, ranked No. 7 in Division I.
On Tuesday, they again play at home against No. 3-ranked rival University, which figures to be the toughest test as CdM tries for its 12th straight league title.
“I think it’s a good opportunity for our doubles to improve,” Ricker said. “That’s three good-quality matches against good opponents. Hopefully we can build from there.”